22 The Final Sacrifice
It had started in the rain, Zelda realised, thinking back to her trek to her mother's tomb, and it looked like it would end that way, too.
She blinked through the steady curtain of rainwater to stare at the fallen Calatian soldiers. Sadness weighed down her heart, just as it had back then. For all the talk of a principle of kindness, it seemed the Noble Path didn't shy away from dealing out death when necessary.
Thunder rumbled overhead. Lightning tore through the air a moment later, striking something beyond the palace walls. Distant screams followed, and a thin tendril of black smoke curled into the sky.
"It's started," she said in a blank voice.
"Shad," said Rusl. "You told us you had a surprise for us when we got here."
Zelda heard the rustle of parchment, and turned to see Shad pull a scroll free from inside his tunic.
"Um," he said with a shy smile. "I managed to procure a plan of the palace."
"Good man." Rusl grinned, and gave Shad a hearty slap on the shoulder. "Where we headed…?"
"The Throne Room," said Captain Kaltern. "The King spends most of his time there. And you won't need those plans, Hylian. It's not hard to find."
Shad looked at the Calatian. "You're absolutely sure that he is alone in the entire building?" he asked in a voice nudged with doubt.
"Definitely," the captain replied.
Zelda felt her own twinge of doubt, too. So much of this plan was based on so much flimsy knowledge that they may as well be going in blind.
Captain Kaltern continued. "I always pressed him to have guards within as well. He said he didn't need them, that if it made me feel better, I could post my men outside the wall." He wiped rainwater from his scarlet eyes and his voice darkened. "Now I know why. A demon has no need for mere men."
"Well, then," said Shad. "Follow me, my friends."
As Zelda turned to do exactly that, her eyes met Colin's. He gave her a small nod of reassurance. She smiled in return.
"Auru," said Rusl. "Stand guard here. Just in case."
They stepped into the darkened opening of the palace. Zelda shivered, the cool air within tingling her wet clothes and skin. Her heart pounded painfully.
And no Link with us, either, she mused. Stuck in his trance after he'd told us to leave him behind. That had caused a bit of an argument.
Their footsteps rang out as they made their way deeper into the dark. More thunder – muffled now – sounded from outside. A screeching wind beat against the outer palace walls.
The party came to a sudden stop. Fear stabbed Zelda's heart. She took in long, deep breaths to steady herself.
So much for surprising him, she thought. Then again, tearing off the front door can't have helped.
A circle of light appeared on the ground in front of them. A throne lay revealed there, holding up an immense blob of a Calatian with an undersized crown perched on top of his head.
The King grinned. The wind outside shrieked even louder.
Ashei gave a sudden yelp of pain. The woman spun, as though struck.
Zelda's eyes widened. Ashei had been struck. Her brow bled from where a metal tile – the same sort that lined the entire face of the palace – had hit her.
A dark chuckle rose from the King as more tiles flew whistling towards them. One struck Zelda straight in the stomach, winding her, the sudden pain making her eyes water. A second knocked her clean to the floor.
Her shoulder cracked against the hard ground, and her head spun, throbbing. She heard the others crying out as well. The King's laugh deepened.
Zelda dropped both hands to her dagger. She tried to yank it free, but it stuck, and she hissed in frustration. She glanced up, saw Rusl swinging his sword uselessly in an attempt to deflect the attacks, then tried again, her mind screaming in fear – and this time her palms were too slick with sweat to catch a grip.
A loud clacking rang out. Zelda's breath caught. She looked up, saw the familiar blue glow of magnesis power, sharp in contrast to the surrounding darkness, sheathing a black blade, and watched as Colin swung, batting back the King's projectiles until, finally, the onslaught ceased.
Zelda slowly picked herself off of the floor. Colin stood ahead of her, tensed, black blade at the ready.
The King smiled again. "Do you like what I've done to the décor…?"
Faint light spilled down two walls of the chamber. Zelda's eyes widened. Pinned to the stone, stretched out like nothing more than tapestry, were the Shade. One hung from the wall to their left, the other on the wall opposite.
"Have none of you anything to say…?" Demise gloated through the bloated form of the King. "Not even you…Captain?"
A pair of lights blazed into life in mid-air. Each one cradled a person – a woman, and a girl – unconscious, their arms and legs dangling.
"No…!" the captain cried, and Zelda knew instantly who the prisoners were.
"No…?" said Demise.
A sword shot out from the darkness to their left. A second followed from the right. Captain Kaltern cried out again – and the weapons came to a sudden halt in mid-air, steel tips just inches away from their victims' throats.
Zelda bared her teeth and balled her fists. "Why are you doing this?!" she shouted, her voice echoing in the gloom. "They've done nothing!"
"Why?" said Demise. "Haven't I explained already? The Shade. These females here. It's all a little game." He chuckled. "But, alas, for Captain Kaltern's family here, they're all out of turns."
The tips of the two swords flashed. Captain Kaltern shouted in helpless rage –
And then suddenly everything vanished, leaving only a thick, glowing fog. Zelda spun around, eyes searching.
"Hello…?" she said.
Shapes formed in the swirling mist, dark shadows that slowly became fully realised a moment later.
"Colin," she said, her heart singing. "Captain."
Colin gasped. "Zelda!" He grinned in relief.
"What is this?" asked the captain. "Where are we? Where's my family?"
It was Link's voice that replied.
"Welcome," he said. "To the Ghostly Ether."
They turned – and there stood Link, but like they'd never seen before. Fully armoured in bronze metal, the Hero of Time cut an imposing figure.
And he wasn't alone. Next to him a woman enclosed in emerald light floated, her hands clasped to her chest, eyes shut in concentration, and her face straining with effort.
"She's…" said Zelda.
"She's you," gasped Colin. "And she's beautiful."
"This," said Link, "is my Princess Zelda." He looked at the younger girl. "From my time."
"I don't care," growled Captain Kaltern. "My wife and daughter are –"
"Safe," Link cut in. "For now. The princess has slowed down time in the physical world so that Demise's swords will take an age to reach them."
"That's not the same as stopping the swords," said Kaltern.
"Listen," said Link. "The princess has brought you all here. Demise, too. She can weaken him here. It would have been easier if we'd broken his physical connection to your world but –" he glanced at the princess in concern – "She decided that she had to act. And it's taking its toll."
Zelda saw the look in his eyes, heard the slight tremor in his voice. It was something she'd never seen from the Hero before.
He loves her. He loves the princess. 'My Princess Zelda,' he called her.
"Demise is here?" asked Colin.
The Hero of Time nodded, his face grim. "And he is mine to face."
Link blinked in surprise. The word had come from the princess's lips. He turned to her with wide eyes.
"The…Chosen…" she gasped. "I…was wrong. Only…"
She said no more.
The Ghostly Ether shook. Demise's voice rolled through the fog. "Are you really?" he said mockingly. "The Chosen…?" He laughed, and the Ether shook again.
Captain Kaltern drew his sword. "Show yourself, demon," he said. "I will finish you alone."
Dark smoke poured out of the fog, spilling into the shape of a huge man in a dark, long robe. A blaze of flame burned atop his head, a match to his fiery eyes.
"Here I am," said Demise. "My most loyal captain…"
With a snarl, Captain Kaltern rushed in. Demise swung with a fist that the Calatian nimbly ducked. The Demon King dodged the captain's next strike, kicking him so hard that Kaltern hit the ground.
Demise swung again – but his gauntleted fist froze suddenly, trembling in mid-air. Cords of wavy blue light had wrapped themselves around his arm.
Zelda's heart leapt. Colin!
She turned to see her friend standing tall with his chest heaving, his eerie black sword spilling the magnesis energy straight at the demon.
A blur of bronze moved past the boy. Link leapt in –
And Demise roared, magical energy pulsing outward from his body to send the three men flying. Zelda gasped – when a jagged bolt of crackling jade energy shot past her and struck the demon. It froze, holding King Demise fast. His blazing eyes turned, a slight crease forming on his brow.
He's fighting it…Zelda realised.
She turned, following the length of the frozen bolt and saw that it had come from the princess. Zelda turned back to see the three swordsman drag themselves back to their feet, each wearing a determined face.
A vision of the future struck her then: the princess and the demon trapped for eternity in endless struggle while Link, Captain Kaltern and Colin hacked away helplessly with their swords in everlasting despair.
A thought needled into her mind: Kindness. The first – and only – principle of the Noble Path.
Link has his princess, she thought. The captain his family. And Colin his Da. They're needed. I'm not. All I have – Determination surged through her every nerve – is the chance to be a Hero!
Zelda stepped into the emerald bolt of magic. She gasped, her hair standing on end. Power filled her to her very core, her body and soul illuminated. A magical storm enshrouded her, whistling like the wind.
Without even thinking about it, Zelda raised one hand and gestured. A large hole tore in the very fabric of the Ether. It leaked black light.
Demise slowly turned his head toward the new opening. Fear exploded all across his face.
"No!" he gasped. "I will not be trapped again!"
That just increased Zelda's resolve. Her skin prickled, the crackle of magic boiling all around her. She raised her palms and pushed. Howling magic pooled around her hands. She heard Demise scream and curse and, with her teeth bared, she slowly began to stride forward.
Demise dug his heels in, but to no avail. Inch by painful inch, he was pushed back toward the portal. The magical wind wailed in Zelda's ears and scratched her skin. She heard a faint voice calling her name.
And for some reason tears streamed from her eyes. She pushed again, and the Demon King edged closer and closer to the dark hole. She didn't even know what lay beyond, but she felt certain that Demise would be trapped there. And so would she.
Her legs shook as she pushed on. Her arms ached. And the tears…she couldn't stop the tears.
At last they were there. The dark hole loomed large behind the Demon. Blazing eyes looked down on her.
"One day…" Demise breathed. "In one world…I will have my victory. My hatred will become malice. And a calamity will befall you all…"
Zelda balled up all of her strength, ready for one last shove –
When a hand snaked out of the fog to catch her wrist.
"Not today," said a voice. "My sweet."
Zelda raised her trembling head. Her eyes widened. She knew who it was without even having to ask.
"You!" spat Demise. "I shamed you with the seeds of lust!"
Tall and imperious with long, chestnut hair flowing down over her white and lavender gown, the Princess Zelda of the Twilight War glared at Demise. "The only seed you sowed, fiend," she said, "was the one for your own downfall. Now, keep silent!"
She gestured, and the demon's jaw snapped shut.
The elder Zelda turned to her daughter and smiled. "Long have we waited in this Ether," she said. "Let us deal with this now."
"We…?" Zelda blinked. "Us…?"
She heard a low growl behind her. Zelda turned to see a grey-furred wolf, head bowed, and ready to charge.
"This," said her mother, "is the Twilight Hero."
The wolf leapt with a snarl. It crashed into the Demon King, and both tumbled into the dark hole, Demise's last, long muffled cry slowly fading as they both fell.
Zelda's mother then drifted over to the yawning opening herself, turning one last time to face her.
"Don't go," said Zelda, surprising herself. She'd never known her mother, but suddenly felt a burning need to find out. "What will happen to you? Both of you? You're sacrificing yourselves!"
Her mother smiled. "We will survive," she said. "We always do. In spirit, if not in the world." The darkness of the portal began to engulf the elder Zelda. "Go, my daughter. Heal Hyrule. Advise the new king."
Her mother held out her arms. Zelda ran straight into them, felt the warmth of her lingering embrace, the thudding of her spirit heart.
Her mother whispered into her ear. "Farewell…"
And then she was gone, swallowed by the darkness that itself shrunk into a pinprick of dark light in a blink of an eye.
Zelda floated in the fog of the Ghostly Ether, dazed, an aching emptiness overwhelming her. Her eyes were drawn to a swirl of light overhead.
The Hero of Time, young now, and dashingly handsome, smiled down at her. A ball of light with fluttering wings whizzed around him. Zelda smiled back, and watched Link turn to his princess. The two of them- Hero and Princess - wrapped themselves around the other in a long embrace as sparkling light surrounded them.
Zelda blacked out.
She awoke to the sound of birds singing, and to the sight of Colin framed in sunlight as he smiled down at her.
"You're awake!" he said. "Great!"
Zelda slowly sat up, then looked around. They were in a clearing. Sunlight flitted in through the gaps between tall trees.
"This is where we met Link," she said. "Where he revealed himself. How'd we get here?"
Colin shrugged. "I don't know," he said. "I thought you might have had something to do with it. After all, you did get rid of the King all by yourself."
Zelda looked down at her hands. The tips of her fingers still glowed with emerald magic. "It…wasn't just me."
"Well," said Colin, reaching up to scratch his head. "You can tell me all about it. Are you ready?"
Zelda stood up, then looked at him, blinking. "Ready…?" she said. "For what?"
"Um." Colin cast a sheepish glance away. "I…thought maybe…we could go adventuring." He ran a hand through his blond hair. "Like together…?" He quickly cleared his throat. "That is…if you're not wanting to be a princess again. I mean, if you are, then I can help you –
Zelda's laugh cut him off. "Be a princess?" she said. "Sounds boring. Adventuring sounds lots more fun."
Colin grinned. "Great!"
Her heart still felt sore, but Zelda was glad for Colin's presence. She took a slow look around. "What happened to Captain Kaltern…?"
Colin shrugged. "I'd rather not have the Shadow tag along with us," he said. "Where's Link, anyway…?"
"He…" Zelda said in a soft voice. "Won't be coming back."
"It's just us, then?"
Zelda nodded. "Just us," she confirmed. "You're the Hero now."
He smiled. "So are you."
A thought came to Zelda. "What about the Resistance…?" she asked. "Don't you want to find your Da…?"
Colin shrugged again. "I'm sure we'll run into them," he said. "They'd have escaped the palace. They're good at that sort of thing." He gave a contented sigh. "So. Where to…?"
Zelda gazed off into the distance. "Kakariko, eventually. But first, back to the Royal City…"
"Really?" said Colin. "Why?"
Zelda smiled. "I hear they're about to crown a new king…"
The two swords clattered to the ground. Captain Kaltern sucked in a long, wheezing breath. He opened his eyes – and his eyes met Layle's. His heart leapt so hard, he thought it would burst.
"Rinku…?" she said, blinking, as she sat up.
"Layle..." he gasped.
Kaltern ran to her, then slid to his knees and enveloped her in his arms. "You're safe…" he said, holding her tightly. He took another deep breath to savour her scent. "You're alive." He cupped her face in his hands, then kissed her.
When their lips parted, Layle looked up at him in confusion. "Rynku…" she said, raising a tentative hand to his face. "What happened to your eyes…?"
"My eyes…?" he said. "What about my face…?"
She frowned. "What about your face…?"
A new, younger voice replied. "Silly daddy!" said Mya. "You look just the same!"
Kaltern grinned. "Kitten!"
She ran into his outstretched arms, and Captain Kaltern embraced them both, sweet relief singing in his grateful heart. He drank in their warmth, eyes closed and brimming with tears.
"But they are funny," said Mya. "Your eyes. They're all red."
"Are they now…?" he said softly as he disentangled himself. "Scared…?"
"No!" the little girl protested. "Silly, I said."
He laughed, then caught his wife's gaze. I'll explain later, he mouthed.
The sound of running footsteps made the captain turn around. He rose to his feet as a troop of Calatian soldiers, armour and weapons tinkling with their every step, met them.
"Captain Kaltern!" said the lead soldier. "What happened? We saw the bodies outside. Where's the King…?"
They don't know, he realised. They don't know who was responsible…
Another thought came to him as well.
"The storm," he said. "Tell me about the storm."
The soldier blinked in confusion. "It…passed," he said. "It was a little rough. A few stray bolts of lightning caused some damage. But…nothing out of the ordinary."
Kaltern's shoulders sagged in relief. But that's not the end of it, is it...?
"I'd like you to take some of your men," he said, addressing the soldier. "And search this entire palace for a scroll."
"Yes," he replied. "There should only be the one. Bring it to me. Make sure none of them read it."
He didn't have to say anything more. He trusted his men. Kaltern's eyes swept the dark chamber. The Resistance were gone. Zelda, too. Deep in his heart, he wished them well.
So long as they don't decide to oppose me, that is…
"Captain," the soldier spoke again in an insistent voice. "Sir. Where is the King…?"
Captain Kaltern turned to look at the empty throne. He walked towards it, spying, at its base, the old king's crown lying on its side. He scooped it up off of the ground with one hand, then drew his sword with the other. The metallic sigh rang out loudly in the large chamber.
He turned to face the soldiers. They were all staring at him – Layla, Mya and all his men. His eyes lingered on each one of them in turn.
Who, he thought, can I truly trust to be in charge…?
Rynku Kaltern, the Hero's Shadow, smiled. "The king…" he said softly as he slowly sat himself down on the throne, "…is right here."
A/N: And that's that! Just a relatively short story to tide things over until Breath of the Wild is released. Hope you all enjoyed it (though it seems to be the least popular one I've done).
Now to see what sort of fanfic gems we can pluck from BotW…